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What Is a Proxy Server and How Does It Work?

What Is a Proxy Server and How Does It Work?
(Image credit: Getty)

If you've been on the internet long, chances are high that you've heard about proxy servers, with many people recommending you use them when browsing the web. But what exactly is a proxy server, and why should you use one?

A proxy server is basically an intermediary between your home computer and the rest of the internet that enables you to access the web via the proxy server's connection rather than your own. It acts as a go-between from a computer to a target website or server. When using a proxy server, there is no communication between your computer and the website you're trying to visit. 

Instead, your computer requests a web page or a file housed on the target server. This request goes to the proxy server, which, in turn, sends the request to the server. The proxy server then obtains the file and sends it to the requesting computer. The most common way to access a proxy server is through a virtual private network, or VPN. The best VPN services usually charge a monthly fee in exchange for access to a network of servers around the world.

How proxy servers work

An example would be if you use your computer to request a web page on the internet. The server requests the data and other files for you from the target server. When you type in a web address, the request is sent to a proxy server. The server then sends the request to the target server that houses that particular website. Then the target server sends the web page to the proxy server, which in turn, sends it to you. The target server sees the proxy server as the visitor, not you.

These servers improve the efficiency of your internet access. If you request a web page or file, it is then stored on the proxy server. Once the data saves to the proxy server, it does not have to request the file again the next time you access it. The file automatically loads from the proxy server.

Security Camera VPN

(Image credit: Unsplash (Matthew Henry))

Types of proxy server

There are several types of proxy servers and uses. A proxy server that acts as the go-between for the requesting computer and server is a forwarding proxy. Another kind of forwarding proxy server is called an open proxy. You could use a public proxy if you want to conceal your IP address so that you remain anonymous during internet activity. 

An elite proxy offers the most anonymity. Not only does it not identify itself as a proxy, but also it does not reveal the IP address of the requesting computer.

A reverse proxy is different from the forward open proxies. With a forwarding proxy, the requesting computer is aware that it is connecting to a target server by way of a proxy, but a reverse proxy appears as an ordinary server. The computer thinks it is connecting to the target server when it is actually communicating with the proxy server.

Whatever kind of proxy you use, just trust it. The proxy server provides both security and anonymity - that is its job. However, the proxy must decode your information in order to send it through to the target server. This means that the proxy sees everything that you are doing, unless you are using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connections. 

This is security technology that establishes an encrypted link between a Web server and the browser. The SSL ensures that any data passed between the Web server and the browser stays private. Therefore, if you do not have an SSL connection, make sure that you trust the proxy that you use. It is the one thing that knows your real IP address.